"I'm not a chicken. I'm just really hesitant." -Frasier Crane
Question #2704 posted on 01/28/2004 midnight

Dear 100 Hour Board,
I have been surprised to hear about how many young married lds girls use birth control. Isn't there a quote from a prophet saying that if your ready to get married, you should be ready to have kids? If so, why do so many justify waiting?
- protected utahn

A: Dear Protected Utahn,
A soon to be married couple, worried they needed to have more faith, and avoid contraception, once asked a wise bishop this same question; to which he responded: "There's a difference between faith and stupidity." The most recent edition of The Official Church Handbook of Instruction states that matters of birth control are between the couple and The Lord, and that NO ONE has the right to interfere. Now, it is true that Joseph F. Smith once ripped birth control in "Doctrines of Salvation." Doctrine of Thor here (ie. essentially worthless): Joseph F. Smith was preaching the higher law. Sure, if everyone had perfect faith, and always lived the commandments to the best of their ability, maybe they should just leave matters of family planning completely in The Lord's hands. But since there are a bunch of spiritual slackers out there who would use that quote as an excuse to pop out ten kids they couldn't afford to care for, that wouldn't get the care they deserved, and would end up milking the church's welfare program, The Bretheren may have toned it down in The Official Handbook. Now it's time for Thor's personal opinion (which is even less reliable than the already shaky "doctrine of Thor"). Let's take a look at the numbers. The average woman has approximately 20 (married) childbearing years. Divide that by 9 months, and that's 27 kids. If you have that many, you're an idiot (that's not an opinion, it's a fact). You gotta space 'em out somewhere along the way, why not at the very beginning, when you're living on student loans, going to school full time, and trying to get used to married life? To each his own. I'm happy to keep it that way.
A: Dear Protected Utahn,

Many people are uncertain on this doctrine due to the sheer number of different quotes and the differing views expressed. I believe the quote you are referencing is by Spencer W. Kimball as made in his speech "Marriage is Honorable" given in 1973:

"I have told many groups of young people that they should not postpone their marriage until they have acquired all of their education ambitions. I have told tens of thousands of young folds that when they marry they should not wait for children until they have finished their schooling and financial desires. Marriage is basically for the family and there should be no long delay. They should live together normally and let children come..."

If you will notice, he never condemns birth control entirely in that quote. He says, however, that there should be no long delay, nor a delay due to wanting to finish school or earn more money. You may then say that such does not warrant the large number of girls in the situation you describe. Please continue reading. I will digress just a bit from your question to address the church's stance on birth control and then will finish answering your question.

As Thor mentioned, President Joseph Fielding Smith did condemn the use of birth control in Doctrines of Salvation:

"It should be understood definitively that this kind of doctrine [birth control] is not only not advocated by the authorities of the Church, but also is condemned by them as wickedness in the sight of the Lord."

I think we can safely say that the church did at one time have a very strong stance against birth control with no discussion allowed. Many people see quotes from quite a while ago and assume that the same policies are adhered to today. Not so.

One important aspect that is left out of this discussion is the times in which many of these comments were made. Now, before anyone jumps on me for what they think is my saying that they weren't "with the times," I am not even going in such a direction. What I do want to point out is that during their time, medical technologies and laws weren't the same as they are now.

Believe it or not, birth control was not always legal. In fact, the large majority of the quotes you will hear were all before birth control was legal. The LDS church strongly advocates obeying the law of the land. The use of birth control flew directly in the face of that doctrine.

During the WWII era, birth control became synonymous with population control, a philosophy the church opposes on every level. For many years, this was what birth control was. Is it any wonder that the church opposed this?

However, on June 7, 1965 the US Supreme Court struck down all state laws that made it illegal for married couples to use birth control. Birth control was now legal and the use of it no longer violated the LDS doctrine of upholding the law of the land. This obviously made it quite a bit more appealing and more readily available for members of the church. However, the church still continued to denounce it. Why?

One big reason was that it wasn't safe. Take, for example, the following excerpt from http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/rcah/html/ah_009600_birthcontrol.htm:

"Intrauterine devices (IUD) were mass-marketed from the late 1960s, and women's experience with them further increased feminist conviction that the FDA, the agency responsible for reviewing the safety of drugs and medical devices, could not be relied on to protect women. The Dalkon Shield IUD caused at least twenty deaths and hundreds of thousands of severe infections and injuries, often creating permanent sterility or other damage. In a victorious class-action suit brought by the victims, its manufacturer, A. H. Robins, was shown to have ignored warnings of the dangers from its own staff. The result did not necessarily help the cause of birth control, however, as nearly all forms of IUD, including those with good safety records, were removed from the U.S. market."

Can you understand why the authorities of a church that so strongly supported the creation of a family would come out against something that had the potential to sterilize the women of the church?

As birth control methods improved, thoughts about it changed. Take, for example, Hugh B. Brown's comment:

"I'm speaking now for myself, and I think the brethren would agree, we feel that we'd better not make any sweeping pronouncements...because of the difficulties which result. There are so many different conditions in the homes, different people to deal with, that this whole question of birth control becomes very much involved and very complex.

"But, as a general rule, we say to our young people, the purpose of your marriage is to have children. If you wish to regulate or space those children, that's up to you. We're not going to follow anybody into their bedroom. I think freedom in this matter ought to be understood."

This certainly seems to be much more tolerant of birth control than any of the quotes from earlier times. However, as Elder Brown pointed out, he was speaking for himself.

In 1979, a Dr. Homer Elmer submitted to the Ensign an article that would redefine the church's position on birth control. Now, you may have noticed that I referenced him as Dr. and not Elder or President. He was not a general authority (though he did serve in the Melchizedek Priesthood General Committee). However, he had to submit his article to the First Presidency of the church first for their approval. That means, that the prophet and his counselors all endorsed what is said in this article as being correct and appropriate for the members of the church to read as guidance. Excepts of his article printed in 1979 are as follows:

"...Thus, on the family questions, if we limit our families because we are self-centered or materialistic, we will surely develop a character based on selfishness. As the scriptures make clear, that is not a description of a celestial character....

"...But, on the other hand, we need not be afraid of studying the question from the important angles--the physical or mental health of the mother and father, the parent's capacity to provide basic necessities, and so on. If for certain personal reasons a couple prayerfully decides that having another child immediately is unwise, the method of spacing children--discounting possible medical or physical effects--makes little difference. Abstinence, of course, is also a form of contraception, and like any other method it has side effects, some of which are harmful to the marriage relationship.

"As a physician I am often required to treat social-emotional symptoms related to various aspects of living. In doing so I have always been impressed that our prophets past and present have never stipulated that bearing children was the sole function of the marriage relationship. Prophets have taught that physical intimacy is a strong force in strengthening the love bond in marriage, enhancing and reinforcing marital unity.

"[regarding 1 Cor. 7:4-5, Joseph Smith Translation] ...Abstinence in marriage, Paul says, can cause unnecessary temptations and tensions, which are certainly harmful side effects.

"...In addition, parents do owe their children the necessities of life. The desire for luxuries, of course, would not be an appropriate determinant of family size: luxuries are just not a legitimate consideration. I think every inspired human heart can quickly determine what is a luxury and what is not."

Does this sound a bit different from any other quote you have been referred to so far? It should. Particularly where he says that "the method of spacing children...makes little difference"? What about the fact that "physical intimacies" are for more than just having kids but to also strengthen the marriage?

Since then, the church has taken a large step back from the birth control arguments except in talking about permanent measures (vasectomies and hysterectomies) or in delaying the birth of children for long periods of time, especially in order to gain "luxuries".

Perhaps one of the LDS church's most defining doctrine is that continual revelation. That is what allowed the stance of the church on the matters of birth control to change. Compare the quote by President Joseph Fielding Smith at the top of this response to the following taken from the current Church Handbook of Instructions:

"It is the privilege of married couples who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for the spirit children of God, whom they are then responsible to nurture and rear. The decision as to how many chldren to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.

"Married couples also should understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife."

This sounds much more favorable towards the appropriate use of birth control, doesn't it?

Now back to your last question: How do the girls justify what they are doing? In that last excerpt, the one from the official church handbook, did you happen to catch the last sentence of the first paragraph? It says that church members shouldn't judge each other on how often and when to have children. Perhaps you should give less thought to how they justify disobeying what appears to be out of date revelation concerning a private matter and more attention to how you justify judging them.

-Pa Grape
A: Dear Protected-

I have a feeling that you are probably not from Utah and were just trying to make us natives look incredibly stupid and judgemental. I agree with everything that Thor and Pa Grape have said. I would like to say that I am grateful for birth-control because without it there would be far fewer girls graduating from BYU and getting their degree. If the couples didn't use birth control they girls would probably drop out after popping out a few kids. I know not all girls would drop out, but I know that many would. We need more educated sisters in the church, and it's really not our place to judge when other couples decide to have children.

I have a friend that just had his frist baby after about two years of marriage. They were 100% ready to bring this little child down to earth. I have another friend who can't keep up on his car payments and rent, hasn't put any money in savings in over a year and is still trying to figure out what he wants in life. All this after being married an entire year. I am glad they don't have a baby yet.

The captain
A: Dear Protected Utahn,

Amen! I second and third all of that which was said before me. I just wanted to add, in the defense of all of the "young married lds girls" that in the BYU Marriage Prep course, the teachers address that question and give the same answer that is in the Handbook--it is between the couple and the Lord. The class even gives different methods of birth control, including the more "natural" selective abstinence. That is birth control, too. As far as readiness to be married equalling readiness for children; if you are living paycheck to paycheck, stacking up student loans, with enough money to pay the bills but none to spare, then why would you think you could afford to have, feed, and clothe a child at that point? If the couple pray and decide that it is not time for them to have a child, it is not for you to judge.

A: Dear "Protected Utahn,"

Whatever. I'm as "protected Utahn" as they come, and my mother uses birth control. She didn't have her first child until she'd been married two years. I also intend to use birth control. I don't want to get pregnant until I've been married at least a year. I plan to spend that year further building the relationship with my husband *before* I get all whacked-out nuts, the way pregnant women do through no fault of their own. Props to Pa Grape and Thor for their thorough, research-based answers.

A: Dear protected,

In certain circumstances, birth control can be a blessing. My sister-in-law had open heart surgery in December, and is not allowed to get pregnant for almost two years. Considering she could die if she gets pregnant, I'm very grateful for birth control right now.

Also, I believe that every child is entitled to parents who want and love them. I think it's sad that many people DON'T want kids, but if they wouldn't give them the love that they deserve, I'd rather they not deprive children of the joy and love that can exist in a family that DOES want them.

At this time last year I, like Ambrosia, was all in favor of it for the first part of my marriage. I was willing to be a couple months pregnant on my first anniversary, but I really wanted a few months to learn to be a wife before all those hormones kicked in. I no longer feel that way. As I've thought back on my parent's family and witnessed the growth of my sister's family, I know that the Lord is VERY aware of timing. If my parents had postponed longer between children, my youngest brother would not have been born before my mom died. In my sister's case, they were trying to have another baby, and were frustrated that it was taking so long. They later saw clearly that the Lord was very wise to time things the way He did. Their new baby boy (my first nephew!) is perfect, and a huge blessing.

In the end, the decision to have children is a very personal one. It is between the husband, wife, and the Lord. No one else. Not the bishop, not the parents or other family members.

-Peachy, who is as sheltered a Utahn as one can be
A: Dear Protected,

As has been said, it's between the Lord and the couple.

I think there are plenty of good, righteous reasons to wait before having children. However, the big reason i think the Bretheren don't want us to postpone having children for is because we want excessive worldly things. For example, the woman wants to continue working so they can have a nicer car, boat, vacations, bigger home, etc. Those are NOT reasons to postpone becoming parents.

- Mighty Quinn

P.S. The bean and cheese burrito is not nearly as good as the green chile.